Raw - “Raw” (1990)

I picked this up on a lark not realizing its connections to one of my favorite labels, On-U Sound. Raw is Keith LeBlanc, a percussionist and producer who’s had a remarkable career. You know, little stuff like being one of the core musicians that was part of Sugarhill and Tommy Boy, performing with artists like Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, from there being a member of Fats Comet, Tackhead, and Mark Stewart‘s backing band Maffia, and later getting production credits with projects like NIN. No big deal, just a consistent track record of being on the cutting edge of music. Nothing to see here.

Raw was one of LeBlanc’s solo projects, one that only produced this single album in 1990 (he was also releasing solo material as DJ Spike during this period). The overall On-U vibe is all over this record, with Adrian Sherwood in the booth and performers like Gary Clail and African Head Charge‘s Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah joining in on some tracks. Man, this thing is right in my sonic wheelhouse - electronics, dub, vocals that are a cross of singing and rapping, and just a dash of industrial. Interestingly half the album’s eight tracks are remixes of songs from LeBlanc’s 1988 album Stranger Than Fiction, a record he put out under his own name.

I can’t get enough of Raw. This is going to make it into the Gary Clail / Tackhead / Fats Comet rotation that I sometimes find myself embracing, and I’m going to need to track down some of LeBlanc’s other projects as well.

Audio Active - “Robot War” 12″ (1997)

Sometimes fate forces you to buy a record.  A few weeks back we were in Hiroshima, Japan with plans of stopping at Dumb Records.  When we got there they weren’t open yet so we decided to head back up to the main street and just wander around for a bit, but then right there on the corner we spotted the sign for Stereo Records and figured we’d just go check them out first.  Stereo Records is a great shop - small like most record stores in Japan, but well organized and full of awesome stuff.  I pulled a 12″ called Robot War out of the Japanese Pop/Rock section simply because it looked interesting, and imagine my surprise when I flipped it over and saw that it was recorded at On-U Sound and produced by none other than Adrian Sherwood.  My love for all things On-U is not a secret, and this just seemed like the perfect conjunction of events, as if the universe was trying to tell me that I needed this record.  And who am I to argue with the universe?

A blend of dub reggae and electronica, Sherwood’s fingerprints can be felt all over Robot War.  And is that Gary Clail I hear repeated saying “Robot War” throughout the song?  He isn’t credited, but it sure sounds like him and he would have been hanging out doing other stuff at On-U during this period.  The B side track “Stiff Wheel” puts aside any notions of reggae and instead comes at you like a cosmic dub space jam, the strong bass line keeping the beat while everything else flares off all around like a fireworks display.  Some classic On-U stuff.

Gary Clail/On-U Sound System - “End of the Century Party” (1989)

So the other night I was swilling some Jack Daniels and poking around on Discogs.  That can often be a dangerous combination, one that results in me waking up in the morning and wondering, “did I buy some records last night?”  Fortunately I don’t get too crazy when this happens (♠), and my most recent episode only resulted in the purchase of one record for around $11, which included shipping.  I had been looking at Gary Clail‘s page and realized that he was also credited on a  separate page as Gary Clail/On-U Sound System, which is how I came to discover a Clail album I didn’t have - 1989s End of the Century Party.

This album looks like Clail and producer Adrian Sherwood simply put out an all-call to everyone they knew and invited them to come jam.  Clail gets writer credits on all eight tracks, with Sherwood as co-writer on six of them (credited as A. Maxwell), but form there it’s a mix of performers.  Clail splits vocal duties with Bim Sherman and Andy Fairly, while no less than five different people are credited with playing bass (including Jah Wobble), three on keyboards, and another three on various types of percussion.  It’s a team effort and that comes across in the songs, which vary in their approach to vocalized EDM.

Stylistically End of the Century Party flows between EDM to light industrial to Barmy Army-like Oi! to dub reggae, and Clail sticks to his guns with some politically charged lyrics as he’s wont to do.  It came out at the end of the decade, and also at the end of what I find to be Clail’s best period of work, 1985-89.  Definitely a worthwhile pick-up.

(♠)  Unlike my buddy Greg who, years ago, woke up one morning to find that he had bought a used limousine on eBay.  Fortunately it ran and he made the best out of having it for a bit.

Fats Comet - “Stormy Weather” / “Dub Storm” 12″ (1985)

fatscometstormyweatherMan I love that On-U sound!

This is the second Fats Comet 12″ I’ve found at my local used shop, Vortex, the other being 1986’s “Rockchester.”  I feel like these two records must have been part of the same collection, because there are a few other On-U records floating around there, and it doesn’t seem like the kind of stuff they get in very often.  Somehow I must have overlooked it before.

The A side is a electro-dub version of the 1933 Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler song “Stormy Weather,” a tune that has gone through countless versions over the years, but probably none as trippy as this one.  I recognized the undercurrent of the original almost immediately, though I’m not 100% sure which version(s) is used here for the sampling, because it features both male and female vocals.  The B side is given over to an even more dubbed out version of the tune, one only recognizable from the less frequent vocal samples.

This is another pair of killer tracks from Adrian Sherwood and On-U.  I’m probably to the point that I’m just going to buy anything produced by On-U assuming the price is even halfway reasonable - they never disappoint.

Fats Comet - “Rockchester” (1987)

fatscometrockchesterI was in for a surprise the other day when I walked into my local used shop, Vortex.  Their selection tends to run very heavily towards rock and jazz, and while I’ve picked up a few decent reggae records from them as well over the years, in general when I stop in I figure I’ll be primarily looking at rock titles.  But they’d just purchased a new collection, and I was shocked when I came across a Gary Clail 12″.  It was one I already had, but this was promising!  Then a single from The KLF - score!  Then a Stiff comp called Start Swimming (featuring, among others, the Bush Tetras), and then Fats Comet’s 12″ Rockchester.  I looked up Rockchester while I was in the shop, and as soon as I saw it was part of the whole Adrian Sherwood / On-U Sound thing I was sold.  When I brought these up to the counter Daren remarked that he wasn’t surprised to see me with these… since I’m generally buying stuff he’s never heard of before, which is pretty funny.

Anyway… what I didn’t know until just now is that Fats Comet was the precursor to Tackhead - basically it was Tackhead without Gary Clail.  Which is suitably awesome, because I’m a big fan of early Tackhead, with it’s quasi-industrial, quasi-jungle beat grooves and heavy use of vocal sampling.  And Fats Comet doesn’t disappoint - these two tracks have some solid beats, a smattering of funky bass, and plenty of samples.  An absolutely killer little 12″.